This month Soraya coaches a senior professional who feels expected to say yes to all requests, which is causing a great deal of workplace stress.

Q:Please can you recommend some tactics for when you’re being asked to do more when you feel you don’t have time to do more?Question

Soraya answers: Being put on the spot by others to help them, when you already feel you have too much to do, is not a nice place to be and can be very overwhelming. Saying no at work can be hard. Our natural instinct is to say ‘yes’, as most of us want to be helpful, but by doing so we know that this will only put more pressure on ourselves.

As a starting point, before you find yourself in these situations, ask yourself:

  • Who do I know who handles their boundaries at work well, and what can I adopt from them to support me when I need to say ‘no’?
  • In the past, have there been situations where I have asked someone to do more, and they declined in a way that I accepted? How did they do it, what can I learn?
  • What are my boundaries? What do they need to be? Being clear with yourself on where your boundaries to ‘yes’ or ‘no’ sit can mean that, in the heat of the moment, you can make a better, clearer choice.


Secondly, you say in your question ‘when you feel you don’t have time to do more’:

I am assuming this means that you feel under pressure? The way that we feel is very personal, and the amount of pressure we put on ourselves varies. Hence how we perceive a situation at any given time can have a huge impact on how we feel and react.

When you are in these situations, would it make a difference if you paused, considered more logically what you need to do, and therefore how much time you need? Effective time management is key in combatting stress. When we are under pressure, we unconsciously engage emotionally, which can often leave us feeling that we have no control. Making our thought process more conscious gives us more control over our emotions, and lets us take a more cognitive approach regarding what we do or don’t have the time to do.

Lastly, in terms of tactics, two that I have heard and have used myself include:

“I would be happy to help but right now my priorities are doing X. Once I have achieved these, I can then help you. Would that be okay?”

Re-frame the request by asking them where on a scale of 1 – 10, with 10 being immediate, where does their request sit? When we are under pressure, we feel that everything is urgent. Helping others to stop and put their request into perspective can help both them and you be clear on the real deadline, and therefore whether your help is required now, later or not at all.

In closing, the Greek philosopher Epictetus said ‘People are disturbed not by things but by the views which they take of them’. When you are under pressure, consciously stop, breath and reappraise your perspective.

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